Freed from the pressures of major-label record making and finally linked with a well-connected indie where he's allowed to follow his muse on his own terms, Paul Westerberg has been wildly prolific (at least by his standards) since hooking up with Vagrant Records in early 2002, releasing five albums (two as Grandpaboy) recorded in his home studio in less than three years. However, Folker suggests that the problems that dogged Westerberg's solo work for Reprise and Capitol haven't entirely escaped him -- namely, his songwriting doesn't have the same consistent spark it had in his salad days. In many respects, Folker sounds like a more muscular variation on 2002's Stereo, which found Westerberg examining his more introspective side, and if this set finds him more willing to lay on the sloppy drums and electric guitars, he's still talking adult stuff -- love, marriage, death -- rather than the post-adolescent traumas of the Replacements. It's also a bit surprising that the man who wrote "Bastards of Young" includes two songs apparently inspired by the passing of his father, one explicit ("My Dad"), one metaphorical ("Lookin' Up in Heaven"), but while the feelings behind the songs are sincere, they don't cut especially deep, which unfortunately is a common flaw with the songs on Folker. There isn't a single bad song on this album, but there aren't any great ones either, and Westerberg's messy direct-from-the-basement production doesn't do much to focus their strengths (though it works fine for the better numbers, especially "As Far As I Know"). The irony is that plenty of fans would have been grateful for an album like this after the overblown miscalculation of Eventually, but now that Westerberg is seemingly back at full strength and able to musically do what he wants when he wants it, it's hard not to walk away with the feeling he's capable of better than this -- and with any luck he'll prove that next time he goes into the basement.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming